Josh Helms is an AmeriCorps member serving at One Roof. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alabama. He lives with his partner and their cat.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve helped members of One Roof’s amazing team pre-register Project Homeless Connect guests at some of our member agencies. I’ve had the opportunity to talk with many folks experiencing homelessness in Birmingham and learn about their lives and barriers to housing. These conversations have reminded me that each person experiencing homelessness is a person first—not their homeless situation, history of substance abuse, history of domestic violence, number of arrests or incarcerations, mental or physical health conditions, HIV status, or even their race, class, gender identity or sexual orientation. Each person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.
I’ve been committed to social justice for most of my adult life (I believe that all persons deserve safety and equality) and I’ve always known folks who were experiencing poverty, but before becoming an AmeriCorps member and serving at One Roof, I never thought much about issues related to homelessness. I walked around Birmingham, London, DC, St. Louis, New Orleans, Atlanta, Memphis, Tallahassee, and I would see people I assumed were homeless based on pervasive stereotypes that I now recognize as harmful and dehumanizing. I’ve always been a shy and private person, so I didn’t stop to strike up a conversation. If asked for money or food, I typically said “I’m sorry, I don’t have anything,” and went about my business.
My perspective has changed drastically during my service at One Roof. I know now that my lack of awareness was the result of privilege. I didn’t know about issues related to homelessness because I didn’t have to—for example, I had no idea how difficult it is to obtain employment, find a place to live, or open/access a bank account without a state ID. No matter how difficult it became for my mother (who was a single mother for most of my adolescence) to pay bills and meet our basic needs, she always had the support of my grandparents. I have always felt like I had a place to go or someone to help me if suddenly I couldn’t pay for housing, utilities, transportation or food.
At One Roof, we know that anyone can experience homelessness and that homelessness happens when people don’t have an adequate support system. We believe that each person in our community deserves safety and stability, and we are constantly working to eliminate barriers to housing. This is why One Roof, in collaboration with Hands on Birmingham, the City of Birmingham, and the United Way Central Alabama, is hosting our seventh annual Project Homeless Connect (PHC) at Boutwell Auditorium on Saturday, April 5, 2014. At PHC, 65+ service providers and businesses will come together to eliminate barriers to housing for some of our most vulnerable community members. On one day, in one place, we intend to end homelessness by providing immediate access to a state-issued ID, legal and medical assistance, and many other carefully identified services that make it easier for folks to gain safe, decent, and affordable homes.
One Roof’s mission is to equip and empower our community to prevent and end homelessness in central Alabama through advocacy, education and coordination of services. At PHC, anyone experiencing homelessness or being served by our member agencies (including the YWCA) can access services that will equip and empower them to leave homelessness forever. To find out more, check out this post from One Roof’s Executive Director, then volunteer or donate to support our efforts.
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